In the United States alone, 20 percent of parents never supervise their child’s online activities, according to the District Attorney Report in San Diego County. After the age of 14, a reported 71% of parents stop monitoring their child’s Internet use entirely. These numbers are alarming, considering the Internet commonly exposes children to sexual predators and cyber-bullying. It’s time to understand how the world has changed and why parents must adapt their parenting techniques in order to protect their families.
Many of us were taught from a young age not to talk to strangers. We learned that men in uniforms could be trusted intrinsically and our teachers were our friends. The rules of safety were clear and defined. With the advent of the Internet, however, the line between strangers and friends has blurred. Online friendship is as simple as clicking a ubiquitous thumbs up “Like” button. On websites such as Facebook and MySpace, this opens up a link so that strangers you have “Liked” can view personal information and photographs, see your other online friends and make comments.
By opting into these social circles with just a click of a mouse, teenagers and pre-teens will typically freely share personal information about themselves to online strangers. A Carnegie Mellon University publication reports that these “shares” include real names, addresses (6 percent), phone numbers (5 percent), and names of schools (6 percent) -especially among students in middle school. It’s unclear why they would share these private facts, but researchers stress that this lack of discrepancy makes it very simple for online sexual predators to gain your child’s trust and take full advantage of them.
Resources and Support
In response to this assault on the most vulnerable of our society – our children – companies like Lifelock and government organizations like the U.S. Department of Justice have developed tools for us to fight back. Among other services, Lifelock can provide your family with advanced Internet surveillance, making sure that strangers do not have access to your private information. The U.S. Department of Justice takes a strong stance against sexual predators and prosecutes offenders to the full extent of the law. The National Sex Offender Public Website will disclose to you a full list of registered sex offenders in your area. Take some time to educate yourself on the dangers associated with sharing personal information on the internet.
On October 7, 2003, Ryan Halligan committed suicide at the tender age of 13. After years of physical bullying and a final bout of malicious cyber-bullying involving purposeful ridicule, Ryan felt he could fight no longer. His parents have aligned themselves with isafe.org to speak out about the crime of cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is the practice of bullying online, usually among youngsters. Megan Meier was another young person who experienced cyber-bullying on MySpace. The mother of another teen had created a fake account for the sole purpose of humiliating Megan. After the postings, Megan took her own life shortly before her fourteenth birthday. New Jersey has created an anti-bullying law that is a good step in preventing online bullying. However, the first step has to happen in every parent’s home. Careful online monitoring and making use of the services of companies like Lifelock can help prevent cyber-bullying before it starts. Nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online. Don’t let it happen to your child.
Left unguided, our children could become victims of the Internet, rather masters. Install virtual boundaries in your home by considering protective measures. Most importantly, maintain the flow of communication between you and your children. For more advice on creating a safe communicative environment at home, try the websites of family professionals like Dr. Phil. Try to be nonjudgmental and accepting while steering them toward the better paths in life. When talking to your kids, try to listen more than speak. You might be surprised at what you hear.
Jackie is a financial manager at an independent bank in Alabama. She shares advice on budgeting and finance for small businesses and homeowners.
By the time you finish reading this, 15 children will have been abused; In the next five minutes, 30 more; Within the next hour, 360 more; And by tonight, close to 8,000+ children will have suffered from abuse, 5 of which will die. Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. The high jump in child abuse deaths and the shocking increase in statistics highlights the frightening lack of public knowledge.
Educate Yourself--Learn the Facts--It may Just Save a Child's Life!!